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Creating new ears and noses for children who need them

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What did the project achieve?

“We’ve created a new synthetic material that could be a safe and effective alternative to using rib cartilage for ear and nose reconstruction in young children,” says Dr Michelle Griffin of University College London. “We are now seeking the necessary regulatory approval, so we can take it into a clinical trial.”

A baby can be born with unusually small, misshapen or missing ears or noses for a number of reasons. Parents are usually given the option of surgical reconstruction, using skin grafts, bone and cartilage from elsewhere in the child’s body. But this can be risky, painful and can’t usually be carried out until children are at least six years old.

Dr Griffin’s team are developing a new material that they hope can be used to replace children’s ears and noses in future.

“We have now optimised our new material to ensure it is mechanically suitable – meaning it bends in a similar way to human cartilage in the nose or ear,” says Dr Griffin. “And we’ve also made changes to improve it so that it doesn’t cause adverse reactions.”

The researchers tested their material in the laboratory, demonstrating it is safe, effective and well tolerated. It has also passed independent safety testing.

“Our results so far are extremely encouraging, and we are looking forward to getting approval to take it into a clinical trial, where we hope it will prove to be a valuable alternative for ear and nose reconstructive surgery for young children,” says Dr Griffin.

This research was completed on

Research Training Fellowship*: Dr Michelle Griffin

Children born with unusually small, misshapen or missing ears or noses may one day benefit from research by Dr Michelle Griffin of University College London. Although it’s sometimes possible to reconstruct a child’s ear, or nose, using plastic surgery, existing approaches all have drawbacks. Dr Griffin is developing a new way to reconstruct ears and noses, in the hope of overcoming these drawbacks and improving children’s lives. Her work may also benefit people whose nose or ears have been damaged, by cancer or burns for example.

This Research Training Fellowship is being jointly funded by Action Medical Research and the MRC.

How are children’s lives affected now?

A number of different conditions can affect the way a baby’s ears or nose develop. An example is microtia, which affects around one in 6,000 babies worldwide.1

“When a baby is born with microtia – with an ear that hasn’t formed properly – parents can experience huge distress and anxiety,” says Dr Griffin. “As children get older, they develop an awareness of their self-image and, quite often, a desire to be like their peers. As well as affecting hearing, microtia can negatively affect children’s self-esteem, mental health and social interactions.

“If a child would like their ear to look the same as other people’s, the current gold-standard treatment is to reconstruct an ear for them surgically, using skin grafts and cartilage taken from around their ribcage,” says Dr Griffin. “Similarly, to reconstruct noses, we take bone and cartilage from elsewhere in the child’s body. This type of surgery has risks, can be painful, and cannot be carried out until the child is six to 10 years old. Alternative options have drawbacks too.”

We need better ways to reconstruct ears and noses for children who need them.

How could this research help?

“I’m developing a new way to reconstruct children’s ears and noses by creating synthetic implants modelled on actual human ears and noses – with a similar structure, stiffness and shape,” says Dr Griffin.

The new implants are made from a unique material that’s been extensively tested and found to be well tolerated when implanted into the body. It has been used to rebuild a person’s windpipe, replace tear ducts and as alternatives for damaged leg arteries, for example.

“For children with microtia, for example, using a synthetic material to make ear implants means there’s no need to remove cartilage from children’s ribs, and children can have their operation sooner, when they are as young as three,” says Dr Griffin. “Synthetic implants are already available, but they’re associated with complications. I am still in the laboratory stages of my work, but I am hoping that my new implants will overcome these complications and give children a new ear – or nose – with a natural look and feel. This would make a huge difference to children’s lives.”

* Research Training Fellowships:
Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.



1. The Voice of Plastic Surgery. Ears – patient information guide. http://www.bapras.org.uk/resources/plastic_surgery_information_guides/ea... Website accessed 11 March 2014.



Project Leader Dr Michelle F Griffin MBChB MRes MRCS MSc
Project Team Supervisor: Professor Peter Butler MD FRCSI FRCS FRCS, Dr Deepak Kalaskar PhD
Project Location Centre for Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine, University College London
Project duration 2 years
Date awarded 13 February 2014
Project start date 15 September 2014
Project end date 31 December 2016
Grant amount £228,075
Grant code GN2239


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